In our new author series, we’ll be offering a clairvoyant peek behind the veil of who and what makes up TRANSCENDENT. Here’s a glimpse at David Kotok and his story “Grey Man Walking Past.”
ABOUT THE STORY
What inspired your story?
My life in Indonesia. The culture. The heady mix of religion and politics, mysticism and legend. The daily friction between rich and poor, corruption and innocence, decadence and chastity. Above all the beauty of the people and their islands. An intoxicating jumble…. I must also mention the earthquakes.
Did you have to do any research? If so, what kind? What did you learn?
Only through my lifestyle as an ex-patriate and my exposure to the clash between privilege and desperation, both in the work-place and at home. Sometimes, the cost of temptation is high. I learnt that mistakes manifest into catastrophes if sown in the right soil.
Can you tell me a little bit about your protagonist?
He drinks too much. His heart has become cold to suffering but he yearns forgiveness for betrayal. The consequences of his actions, even if thoughtless, seem inevitable. He’s a frail being whose indiscretions are taking their toll. Whether he is any more culpable than those who might pursue him, demonic or human, is a question for the reader.
Tell me about the setting you chose and how it influences your work.
The setting is Jakarta. I lived there through desperate times; the rise of terror, unbridled corruption, economic austerity and calamitous natural disasters. Throughout the people smiled their welcome, sharing affection and offering wisdom. I would return to live there if I could, but it’s not so easy. I have a different life now. But Jakarta, and Java, still inspires.
What would you like readers to take away from your story?
That we are responsible for our actions. That indiscretions to one person are tragedies to another. That a simple mistake can amplify with unforeseen magnitude. And it may come back to bite…. Maybe we should all be more careful.
Which phrase are you most proud of in this story?
Am I allowed two?
‘I am the Grey Man’s larder.’ Horrible. He realizes he is no more than fodder for the fiend that taunts him and the feeding is inevitable, yet still he is driven to resist. Such truth is played out daily from the fish hooked on a wire to the human dilemma of life and death. There is no escape, but we struggle and bear suffering, however futile.
‘The foundations shatter and the tower rears and I am on a ledge in the sun, on the nineteenth floor, looking down as the building sways.’ Pride in that the words evoke fear. It scared me to write it and it scares me to read it. I have no head for heights and earthquakes petrify me, so I’m mortified. If it doesn’t frighten anyone else, it succeeds with me.
If your story was front-page news, what would the headline be?
That might give the story away! How about ‘Monsoon Terror – the Grey Man and a Devil in Green Underpants prowl the suburbs!’?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I bought an old teak door carved with a theme from the Ramayana and decorated in dark muted tones highlighted with gold paint. It weighs a ton and is difficult to hang but is beautiful and mysterious and acts as a muse.
If you had to put your name on someone else’s book/story, which would it be and why?
Not sure. Maybe my friend Martin Wakefield’s piece “The Railway Enthusiast.” Why? Because I wish I’d written it.
When did you decide to take writing seriously?
2005, in Jakarta. I wanted to describe the sights and sensations of the vibrant new culture unfolding around me. I also paint but setting up canvas and medium takes time, and I had a new job to succeed in; words can be inked or typed in stints of anything from minutes to hours. So, I draw in words…. Well, I try.
If you could choose a single superpower, what would it be and why?
To breathe under water. The underwater world is astonishing and the creatures beguiling, both the delicate and the dangerous. To be at ease with the ocean, to be confident in your abilities beneath the waves and to capture the feeling of weightlessness is as empowering as it’s gratifying.
David Kotok was inspired to write whilst living and working in Jakarta, Indonesia, a city affectionately known as the Big Durian, a fruit with a powerful odour yet sweet taste. His first published story was set in the metropolis, as was ‘Grey Man Walking Past’, his sixth selected for publication. Between these highs he has scribbled tales based on his experiences from Shanghai to Seoul and Lisbon to Madrid and back again, appearing in such outlets as Black Static magazine and a collection of short stories called ‘The Best of the Short Story’.
He currently lives in a converted Oast House in the English countryside, where hops were once gathered to turn into ale. Between writing he walks his dogs, feeds the birds, throws pots on a Wednesday and commutes into London. David’s personal observations reflect the worlds he occupies, close and distant, in the art of creation.